Court Denies Farmer Equipment Return

Court Denies Indicted Farmer's Request to Return Seized Equipment in Organics Case

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A Minnesota farmer indicted on two counts of wire fraud in connection with an organics crop fraud case was denied his motion to have seized equipment returned to him for the 2023 planting season. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Cottonwood County, Minnesota, farmer James Clayton Wolf will not have his farm equipment returned to him for the 2023 growing season after a federal judge on Thursday denied a motion in an ongoing organic crops conspiracy case.

Wolf was indicted by a grand jury last year on three counts of wire fraud as a result of an alleged conspiracy to falsely sell $46 million in non-GMO corn and soybeans as organic. Twelve pieces of Wolf's farm implements were seized by federal authorities as part of the investigation.

On Friday, Wolf's attorneys announced they were planning an appeal, according to a notice posted with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

Also indicted on Jan. 11, 2023, was Olson Seed LLC owner and operator Adam Clifford Olson of Windom, Minnesota. Olson now is named along with Wolf in the new indictment. A superseding indictment replaces a previous indictment.

The court allowed Wolf to use his equipment to harvest in 2022, but warned him at the time he would not be able to have it back for farming this year.

Wolf argued in his motion that Olson's indictment months later moved back his own trial date at no fault of his own and that Wolf is presumed innocent, precipitating the need to have his equipment for 2023 planting.

Magistrate Judge David T. Schultz didn't buy that argument.

"Wolf's contention that indicting a co-defendant was essentially a surprise belies the text of the original indictment itself," Schultz said in the order. "That indictment stated that 'Wolf directed that some of the payments for the grain he sold be made to a third party, who spent the money for Wolf's benefit.' Further that 'Wolf and others assisting Wolf communicated with the grain supplier and with the buyers. Wolf and his associates sent buyers documentation falsely describing the grain as organically grown.'"

The indictment also stated that Wolf was "aided and abetted" by others.

"These statements all put Wolf on notice that a superseding indictment may follow, and his allegation that this delay was a surprise is therefore unavailing," Schultz said.

"He does not challenge the validity of the underlying warrants that authorized seizure of the farm equipment at issue. Wolf is correct that he is presumed innocent, but that does not in itself change the fact that a neutral magistrate found probable cause to seize his property as potential evidence of a crime and the government holds the property pursuant to that finding."

The indictment alleges Wolf grew conventionally farmed crops using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which would be in violation of organic-farming standards. Olson was added to the indictment for his alleged role in the scheme.

For years, Wolf provided grain purchasers with copies of his National Organics Program certification, but according to the indictment, he withheld information the grains were not organically farmed. The scheme resulted in Wolf allegedly receiving more than $46 million in payments from grain buyers.

The indictment alleged Wolf directed some grain payments to a third party who then "spent the money for Wolf's benefit." His organic-farming certification was revoked in 2020. The indictment, however, alleges Wolf "utilized an associate" to continue the scheme by selling non-GMO crops as organic.

Wolf and other associates communicated with a grain supplier and with buyers via email and telephone, including sending documents "falsely describing" the grain as organically grown.

Organic crops are grown without the use of GMOs or chemicals, and farmers are required to follow strict protocols when it comes to planting, fertilizing, harvesting, storage and transportation of the crops labeled as organic.

Also read "Indicted Farmer Wants Equipment Back,"….

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Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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